Title: Sharing a Car? Yuck, No! An Investigation of Consumer Contamination in Non-Ownership Services
Authors: Hazée, Simon
Delcourt, Cécile
Van Vaerenbergh, Yves
Issue Date: Jul-2015
Conference: Frontiers in Service Conference edition:24 location:San José, California date:9-12 July 2015
Abstract: To differentiate and compete successfully, more and more companies develop new business models based on non-ownership services, in which consumers gain access to goods instead of buying and owning them (Belk, 2014). This is in line with the access paradigm of Lovelock and Gummesson (2004) who suggest consumers can fulfill their needs by gaining access to physical objects, rather than owning them. For instance, consumers of car-sharing programs pay to have access to self-service cars. Botsman and Rogers (2010) suggest non-ownership services are as important as the Industrial Revolution, indicating the emergence of a post-ownership economy.

While non-ownership services offer consumers several benefits, convincing them to adopt those services remains challenging. Prior research shows that sharing a product may raise contamination concerns among consumers because the previous user touched the shared product, which in turn may negatively influence the service experience (Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2012). Unfortunately, although contamination appears to play an important role, knowledge about its effects on the adoption of non-ownership services is lacking. Drawing on the contamination theory (Argo, Dahl, and Morales, 2006), we report the results of two studies and the objectives of two others.

Study 1 examines whether consumption modes (i.e., ownership vs. access) raise different levels of contamination concerns. Results show that, not only respondents expect to find significantly more germs on the gearbox of a car accessed via a car-sharing program – compared to an owned car, they also believe the germs found on the gearbox of an accessed car are more harmful. These results show that contamination is indeed a concern that firms need to tackle so as to increase the adoption rate of non-ownership services.

Study 2 further explores consumers’ contamination concerns in non-ownership services by conducting in-depth interviews with potential, actual, and former users (n=29) of car- and bike-sharing programs. Findings indicate consumers derive contamination concerns, along with disgust feelings, from germs and/or sensory residues left by previous users (e.g., tissues). These concerns are especially salient in non-ownership services because of the active role consumers play in the entire process: touching the product is essential to benefit from the service. Moreover, contamination effects appear to be more salient for those accessed products consumers have close contact and high involvement with. Lastly, findings show that purifying actions (e.g., cleaning) could reduce contamination salience. Particularly, potential users want these actions to be carried out by the firm rather than by the previous user.

Study 3 aims to examine in an experimental design whether contamination concerns negatively influence consumer outcomes. To do so, we manipulate contamination cues and demonstrate the effects of contagion on perceived service quality, overall satisfaction, word-of-mouth, and repurchase intention through the mediating process of disgust. Study 4 investigates the effects of purifying actions by manipulating its visibility and the nature of the purifier. Data collection and analyses are expected to be completed by March 2014.

This research contributes to both theory and practice. From a theoretical perspective, this research is the first to investigate the effects of contamination on consumer outcomes frequently measured in service settings. Furthermore, we specifically focus on non-ownership services, expanding the scarce research on the topic and the research context of contamination literature. Lastly, this research adds to the literature by empirically considering the effects of purifying actions on consumer contamination concerns. From a practical perspective, this study shows that firms engaging in servitization by offering non-ownership services need to consider consumer contamination when designing and managing these services.
Publication status: accepted
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Research Centre for Work and Organisation Studies (WOS Bxl), Campus Brussels
Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) - miscellaneous

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